Can cats eat Chocolate?

Posted by Oct 27, 2016 |

Humans love sweet things, like chocolate and do consume a large amount of it for any occasion, be it Halloween, Christmas, Easter, birthday or any other celebration. These are the moments when we, cat owners are even more tempted to share our food with our cats as well.

If you are in this situation and wondering about: “Can cats eat chocolate? Or is chocolate poisonous to cats? And what happens if cats eat chocolate?” then you are at the right place. This article will answer all these questions along with many more details.

Can cats eat Chocolate?

Can cats eat chocolate? – No

The straightforward answer to the question: “Can cats eat chocolate?” is a big no. Cats can’t eat chocolate. In fact, chocolate can be really harmful to cats. So even if your cat begs for a piece, please do not fall for her heartwarming influence and say no. Cats and chocolate don’t go well together and indeed are a very dangerous combination. Therefore, you should never feed your cat chocolate.

Anyway, chocolate is not part of a feline’s regular diet, and it doesn’t carry any nutritional benefits either, so there is no use of feeding your cat chocolate. Consequently, to be safe, just keep your cat away from any forms of chocolate at all cost.

Why can’t cats eat chocolate? – Is chocolate bad for cats?

As it turns out, cats should not eat chocolate. But why not? Are they allergic to it? Or is it poisonous to them? Before we get to these points, here are some basic things about cats and chocolate to have a clear and better understanding.

About cats and chocolate

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Chocolate, one of the most popular food types and flavors in the world, is produced from cocoa beans that are grown near the Equator. It is a highly used ingredient in a vast number of foodstuffs including desserts like cakes, and biscuits, commonly used as flavoring in mousse, pudding, or ice cream, and it can be found in beverages such as chocolate milk, hot chocolate or even in some alcoholic drinks as well. However, much of the chocolate consumed today is sold in chocolate bars and come in different varieties (dark, milk and white chocolate) and shapes.

When it comes to nutrition, chocolate is a good source of vitamins such as vitamin A and B12, and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and magnesium, and contains alkaloids like theobromine or caffeine together with a moderate amount of oxalate.

Despite its bad reputation for causing weight gain, chocolate is said to have a number of health benefits for humans like lowering cholesterol, preventing cognitive decline and reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems. However, these advantages do not apply to cats. Unlike for humans, chocolate doesn’t provide any type of nourishment to your cat, and that is why there is no benefit of feeding your cat chocolate.

Types of chocolate

Are cats allergic to chocolate?

It is a well-known fact that just like humans, cats can have allergies too, and food allergy is one of the most common types. Every cat is unique. Some cats have a more sensitive digestive system than others and may have allergies to certain foods. Therefore, it is definitely possible that a particular cat has an allergy to chocolate. However, the problem of a cat eating chocolate is not due to feline allergy.

Consequently, cats can indeed have an allergic reaction to chocolate, but this is not the exact reason why cats eating chocolate is a really bad idea.

Then why is chocolate bad for cats?

While chocolate is a sweet, delicious snack for humans, it is absolutely not suitable for cats. In fact, chocolate is very dangerous to cats for several reasons.

As discussed, the problem that cats have with chocolate is basically not due to being allergic to it. Rather, it is due to the fact that chocolate contains several substances that can be harmful to cats.

The first thing to watch out for is the high sugar content found in chocolate. Chocolate contains a lot of sugar which if eaten, adds excess fat to a cat’s little body causing weight gain and this could easily result in several health problems like diabetes, liver disease or even decreased length of life.

Another troubling component in chocolate is oxalate. Chocolate and cocoa contain a reasonable amount of oxalate that is believed to contribute to kidney problems or bladder stones especially if the cat has urinary tract infections quite frequently.

Even though these ingredients individually (sugar and oxalate) are harmful to cats, the main reason why chocolate is bad for cats is due to another two chemical compounds found in chocolate: caffeine and theobromine, both of which provide a substantial physiological effect on the mind and body.

Both theobromine and caffeine are known as stimulants and affect the cardiac and nervous system. When a cat eats foods that contain these ingredients (like chocolate), she may experience high blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased loss of body fluids, upset stomach, hyperactivity, excessive thirst, muscle tremors, seizures, all of which can be individually dangerous for cats.

So is chocolate poisonous to cats? – Can chocolate kill cats?

If you are still in doubt how dangerous chocolate can be to cats, let me make it clear for you: since chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine that are very harmful to cats, if your cat eats chocolate she can become seriously sick or in severe cases even die. So the answer is yes, chocolate is poisonous to cats, and yes, if it is not caught in an early stage, chocolate can even kill cats – although it is not usual.

The reason behind this is all about metabolism. First of all, cats metabolize theobromine and caffeine much slower than humans, because of which these compounds remain in their bloodstream for a longer period. Secondly, cats cannot break these ingredients down and eliminate them properly. Therefore, they build up in their body until they get to a toxic level, leading to negative symptoms and even chocolate poisoning in cats.

In addition, while humans can eat chocolate with relatively fewer health risks as we are larger and more tolerant to these ingredients, cats are more likely to suffer from different health problems, even serious chocolate poisoning.

In conclusion, if you were wondering: “Is chocolate toxic to cats?”, have no doubt. Because of the two poisonous ingredients: theobromine and caffeine, chocolate is toxic to cats. Since cats have extremely low tolerance to these compounds and the lethal dosage of theobromine for cats is really low (and here remember, what would be a small quantity for a person, may be a large quantity for a cat), even small amounts of chocolate can have significant impacts on their body resulting in serious sickness or even death.

Exhausted cat

How much chocolate can a cat eat?

While a small amount of chocolate will most probably not harm your cat, if consumed in large enough amounts, your cat will suffer the consequences. Meaning, too much of it can lead to chocolate toxicity in cats resulting in a medical emergency or even death. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of the amount.

How much chocolate is potentially dangerous to your cat depends on mainly two factors: the cat and the chocolate, specifically the size and health condition of the cat, and the amount and type of the chocolate consumed. As a general rule:

  • the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is,
  • the more the chocolate, the more deadly it is,
  • the smaller and unhealthier the cat, the less chocolate she can handle without dying.

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Different types of chocolate

Chocolate is a product made of cocoa and classified into types according to the proportion of cocoa used in a particular formulation. Theobromine and caffeine – the two most dangerous ingredients – are the compounds of cocoa, therefore, the more cocoa is in chocolate, the more theobromine and caffeine it contains. These ingredients can be found in all types of chocolate, though their concentration varies according to the type.

The main types of chocolate are the following:

  • milk chocolate,
  • dark chocolate,
  • white chocolate,
  • cocoa powder,
  • unsweetened baking chocolate.

The theobromine level varies in different types of chocolate which means that not all chocolates are equally dangerous. Since theobromine and caffeine are the two poisonous ingredients in cocoa, the more the cocoa a chocolate contains, the more dangerous it is. Therefore, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to cats.

Consequently, the most dangerous types of chocolate are the cocoa powder and the unsweetened baking chocolate as they have the highest level of theobromine (800 mg/ounce and 450 mg/ounce).

The next one in the order of theobromine toxicity is dark chocolate (with 200 mg/ounce) which is followed by milk chocolate (with 60 mg/ounce). White chocolate contains insignificant amounts of theobromine and caffeine (little to none), making it relatively harmless to cats.

Note: one ounce is equal to roughly one square of chocolate.

Does this mean white chocolate is ok? – Can cats eat white chocolate?

While the white chocolate’s texture is similar to the milk or dark chocolate, in the strict sense, it is not considered chocolate in many countries because it does not contain any cocoa solids. It is a chocolate derivative that consists of cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.

Since it is the cocoa that contains theobromine and caffeine and white chocolate contains no cocoa, among chocolates white chocolate has the smallest potential to harm cats. But, considering the high amount of sugar found in it, it is still best to avoid giving white chocolate to your cat.

What about other chocolate products?

Chocolate bars are not the only products made of cocoa. There are desserts, flavorings, and even drinks that contain chocolate. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Can cats eat chocolate ice cream or is it also bad for cats?

Although chocolate ice cream contains much less of theobromine and caffeine – the poisonous ingredients – it is still dangerous to cats. Not only because of the chocolate content but because ice cream is made of milk.

As you most probably know already, most cats are lactose intolerant, and when a lactose intolerant cat is having milk or products made of milk, she is not able to digest it properly so it will remain in her digestive system. Sooner or later this will upset her stomach and lead to vomiting or diarrhea. So it is in your best interest to avoid letting your cat having some chocolate ice cream.

In consequence to answer the question, no, cats should not eat chocolate ice cream.

Can cats drink chocolate milk?

Chocolate milk should not be given to cats either, for the same obvious reasons. Even though the chocolate content is less in it, a large amount can easily result in unwanted consequences. Not to mention that chocolate milk’s main component is milk that most cats cannot digest, which, in the end, can cause different gastrointestinal problems. Therefore, to avoid all the unnecessary issues, cats should not drink chocolate milk.

Can cats drink chocolate milk?

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So how much is too much? – The fatal dose of chocolate for cats

As mentioned earlier, how much chocolate can be fatal to a cat depends on several factors.

Size of the cat:

The larger the cat, the more chocolate (more theobromine) she can handle safely, while smaller cats face greater risks of chocolate poisoning. In addition, kittens are more prone to chocolate poisoning compared to adult cats, however, older cats tend to have more health problems with the side effects.

Health condition of the cat:

While a cat with liver or immune system problem is more prone to chocolate toxicity, healthy cats can also become very sick from eating chocolate.

Type and amount of the chocolate:

Since different types of chocolate have different levels of theobromine, they reach the toxic level at different amounts. The cat’s reactions will range from mild to severe or even to life-threatening, depending on the type of the chocolate and the amount consumed.

As a general rule, the darker the chocolate (more cocoa ergo higher concentration of theobromine), the more toxic it is and the more the amount, the more dangerous it is to the cat. So the general guideline for the amount is the following:

  • The dose of theobromine that can kill a cat is about 100-200 milligrams for every kilogram of body weight.
  • Though, the toxic dose is much lower. Mild symptoms occur at about 20 milligrams per kilogram, while severe ones occur at 40 milligrams per kilogram.

To make it even more understandable, let’s take an example: a 5-kilogram healthy cat eating milk chocolate (level of theobromine: 60 mg/ounce):

  • The cat’s fatal dose is 100 mg * 5 kg = 500 milligrams, which means that consuming around 8 ounces (roughly 8 squares) of milk chocolate can kill the cat.
  • Ingesting around 20 mg* 5 kg = 100 milligrams of theobromine (around one and a half ounces = one and a half squares milk chocolate) is unlikely to have more than mild negative effect on the cat, while consuming 40 mg * 5 kg = 200 milligrams (around three ounces = three squares milk chocolate) may place that cat at risk of serious illness.

What does all this mean? As you can see, even one and a half square milk chocolate can cause mild symptoms in a 5 kg cat. If the chocolate is darker, or the cat is smaller, the dangerous quantity is even less.

In conclusion, the fatal dose of chocolate may depend. However, it is best to know that even as little as a square piece of chocolate can cause life-threatening problems to an average cat.

Please note that this is intended only as a rough guideline using average quantities, and not a substitute for veterinary guidance. Always use your best judgment and keep in mind that no amount of chocolate or chocolate based product should ever be considered as safe for cats.

One chocolate square

What happens if a cat eats chocolate? – Signs of chocolate poisoning in cats

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Since chocolate is dangerous to cats, it is every cat owner’s best interest to keep their cats away from chocolate. However, accidents can happen, and cats can manage to eat some pieces, so it is very important to know and understand the health risks involved.

If a cat eats chocolate, she will most probably start showing symptoms of chocolate poisoning. The impact of chocolate toxicity in a cat will vary depending on many factors: amount and type of chocolate (how high in cocoa) it was consumed, and the age, weight and health condition of the cat.

When a cat consumes chocolate or a chocolate byproduct, there are number of symptoms that could occur. Some may be minor while others life-threatening or even fatal.

In general, if a cat eats small amount of chocolate, she may experience the following signs of chocolate toxicity:

  • Strange behavior
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation, hyperactivity
  • Increased urination

In advanced cases, when a cat manages to ingest high amount of chocolate, the symptoms are more alarming and often include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Increased body temperature
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Ataxia, disorientation
  • Tremors, muscle twitching
  • Seizures
  • Collapse

A cat that consumes toxic amount of chocolate will experience much more severe symptoms of chocolate poisoning which includes:

  • Breathing problems
  • Internal bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Coma
  • Death

Symptoms usually occur immediately, within a few hours of ingestion (as soon as theobromine enters the cat’s bloodstream), and progress rapidly, but may also take up to 36-48 hours to show themselves.

If the chocolate poisoning is caught in an early stage, it can be treated, so spotting the symptoms on time can give the cat a better chance of survival. Therefore, if you suspect that your cat has consumed chocolate, remain calm and contact your veterinarian right away.

Sick cat

My cat ate chocolate! What to do? – Diagnosis, treatments

After knowing all the risks chocolate could cause to a cat, you will most probably avoid giving it to your cat. However, accidents can and will happen, so you can easily find yourself in that worrying situation where you want to know what exactly to do if a cat manages to eat some chocolate. The following step by step guide will help you get through this difficult situation.

So what to do if your cat eats chocolate?

First of all, please do not panic and try to remain calm. In many cases, cats just taste the chocolate and leave it as they are not really attracted to sweet things. However, larger quantities may require treatment, and in this case, early recognition is highly critical. Since the symptoms can become serious quickly, you need to act immediately.

Immediate care

Since chocolate poisoning in cats can be treated if caught in an early stage, it is very important to do the right things immediately. Here is the list what needs to be done:

Early recognition

If you suspect your cat has eaten any forms of chocolate, do not hesitate and determine what type and how much she has consumed as soon as possible.

Since chocolate poisoning depends on the size (breed, age, and weight) and health condition of the cat, and the amount and type of the chocolate consumed, try to find the packaging of the chocolate and be prepared with all these information along with the symptoms you could monitor in your cat.

Contact the vet

Instead of waiting for symptoms to appear, call your veterinarian (or animal poison hotline) immediately for specific advice and give them all the information they ask for. To understand the level of toxicity they will most probably want to know all the information mentioned above.

Immediate action

During the phone conversation with your veterinarian, he might suggest you eliminate the toxins from your cat’s body right away by inducing vomiting. This will prevent the dangerous ingredients from being absorbed and will reduce the risk of severe poisoning and further health problems.

Depending on the severity of the poisoning, as the next step, he could also ask you to take your cat to his clinic along with a sample of your cat’s vomit for further diagnosis and treatment.

Important note: If your cat ingests a large amount of chocolate and experiences symptoms of chocolate poisoning, you can skip these points and take her to the nearest veterinarian or animal emergency clinic straight away for thorough examination and treatment. The faster you are, the better chances you have.

Veterinary care of a cat

At the vet

Diagnosis of chocolate poisoning in cats

Once you are at the veterinarian clinic with your cat, you might be questioned (again) about your cat’s size and health, the type and amount of chocolate ingested, and the symptoms occurred. They may also ask for a sample of your cat’s vomit. All this can assist with the diagnosis.

You can expect the veterinarian to perform a thorough physical examination including certain tests like chemical blood profile, urinalysis or electrocardiogram (ECG). The results of all these tests will then help to determine the diagnosis and define if the cat has chocolate poisoning.

Treatment of chocolate poisoning in cats

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After determining the condition of the cat, the veterinarian will start the treatment which will depend on the severity of the chocolate poisoning. Although there is no antidote for this kind of poisoning, there are some treatments that can be administered by the vet, including:

  • Inducing vomiting to remove the undigested chocolate – only if the chocolate consumption is recent (within the last one or two hours)
  • Administering activated charcoal to prevent more theobromine absorption in the bloodstream
  • Providing medications to control the side effects, like tremors and seizures
  • Monitoring organ functions by blood tests and monitoring heart rate and rhythm (ECG)
  • Providing intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and to induce urine production
  • Using intubation and artificial ventilation to help to stabilize respiration

In general, the cat will be hospitalized until the theobromine has left her system and she has recovered completely, which may take several days.

After the vet

After the veterinary treatment, you need to keep your cat in a quiet and comfortable environment. Make sure she gets enough fresh water in the upcoming days. She may also need a change of her diet for a few days to avoid further problems (only if your veterinarian suggests you do it). And finally, please keep the chocolate away from your cat.

Important note: this short guide is no substitute for veterinary guidance. Please always follow your local vet’s advice, and make sure to treat chocolate ingestion as an emergency.

Comfortable cat

Prevention – How to avoid the problem?

Now, that we know all about the risks and effects of chocolate consumption in cats, it is useless to say that the best way to keep your cat away from going through the sufferings of chocolate poisoning is to prevent the problem itself.

The best form of prevention is to keep all the chocolate items (in all forms, be it a bar, cake, candy, an ice cream or drinks) out of your cat’s reach.

Although most cats are picky about their food and chocolate is usually not their favorite, sometimes they do get curious. And no matter how cautious you are, it is absolutely possible that your cat will find her way into some chocolate treat, having very strong sense of smell.

This is why all foods that contain chocolate should be safely stored in places that are inaccessible to your cat (in firmly closed containers and cabinets). It is also important not to offer anything that might contain chocolate, and make sure to educate people – who might interact with your cat – about the dangerousness of chocolate.

Fortunately, most cats are not attracted chocolate, and even if they taste it, they will not be interested in eating it. The reason for this is because they do not have sweet taste receptors on their tongue and are unable to taste sweets. Thus, cats won’t see chocolate as an ideal treat.

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Conclusion – Can cats have chocolate?

As it turns out, cats should not eat chocolate. The reason for this is not a food allergy. Cats are not typically allergic to chocolate, but chocolate is toxic to them, having two poisonous ingredients (theobromine and caffeine) found in cocoa that is present in chocolate. Here remember, this includes everything that might contain chocolate (chocolate bars, cakes, biscuits, mousse, ice cream, milk chocolate, etc.).

So, believe it or not, chocolate poisoning in cats is an existing problem, which is even more frequent during holiday seasons. It can be treated if caught in an early stage, however, it is very painful for the cat and an unpleasant experience for the owner.

Therefore, it is wise to stow away all the cocoa and chocolate items from your cat. And if accident happens, and your cat manages to eat some, make sure to use your best judgment, remain calm and contact your nearest vet immediately.

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